Originally published on Issue 56, February 2018
The group ‘Wings of Unity’ met again for the fourth round. There were about twenty Catholic Christians and Shi‘a Muslims at the Sophia University Institute of Loppiano. As in the past, we experienced a moment of great cultural richness, but above all spiritual richness. The topic chosen was certainly not the easiest and was undoubtedly anything but to be taken for granted: revelation. Islam and Christianity differ not just a little on this theme, and if the positions are not put into the context of an environment of peaceful exchange and deep listening, they tend to become rigid and even conflictual.
Instead, as on prior occasions, even if diversity was not lacking and was often anything but marginal, we lived experience of effective dialogue because there was the affective dimension that was the result of these days spent together. This is not to say that it was sentimental – far from it! The effective part is born precisely from a long experience of mutual listening, acceptance, and the capacity for dialogue that welcome the other, even if they are different, and without any pretension or expectation of modifying positions or points of view. In effect, this experience of dialogue is the experience of life even before being an intellectual experience, and it truly becomes such only if rooted in the existential dimension.
We had proof of it the evening before our closed-door seminar in front of about 150 inhabitants of the city of Loppiano, coming from different countries and nationalities. We shared the progress made over the last year and a half and we reached the point of communicating the deepest aspects of this experience. Even if the evening was completely improvised, what emerged with clarity was the vital dimension of this frame of thinking entitled Wings of Unity. We spoke of the summer school which was held last August in Trent, but also of our personal experiences and theological and philosophical understandings that are emerging both on the individual and communitarian levels. In the hall, there was great warmth. The warmth took my breath away, and I imagine that those who were present also felt the same way. For two hours everyone was still immersed in listening not just with interest but deeply involved.
The impressions I gathered at the end of the evening were quite different from the clichés we gather every day from the mass media on the relationship between Muslims and Christians. The message that has been communicated through these common experiences of life and thought is that dialogue is possible even in the face of the differences and difficulties that seem to block this spirit.
Still, the strongest experience was once again the one lived with Mohammad, Mahnaz, Israa, Shahanaze, Hanieh, Sharazad, and so on. It was the experience of discovering that before anything else we are brothers and sisters – even before being Christians and Muslims. This does not mean to give in to an attitude of confusion. The characterizing elements of each one of those present were well-defined and clear. What makes a difference is the atmosphere of fraternity that was created thanks to this attitude of brotherhood. In fact, even brothers and sisters remain very different from one another. It is an experience that is difficult to describe unless one lives it. But once it has been witnessed, it is impossible to forget and dialogue becomes a reality!
Islam Today issue 65 (Special Issue) is dedicated to the interfaith work undertaken by the Islamic Centre of England over the past few years. Download the full pdf here: